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On Safairy…With Whide Hunter…In Santa Rosa

by David and Susan Fiedler

(If you don’t recognize the title of this article, it comes from a chapter in the book In His Own Write by John Lennon (reproduced below). This book totally helped keep me weird back in the day — David)

Susan has enough trouble with asthma and allergies that traveling to certain places, like NYC, are pretty stressful for her, so actually going to a place full of exotic plants and diseases like Africa would be a Bad Idea. But we love animals. So when we heard that there was a private wildlife reserve just 3 hours from our house that specialized in African animals and was open to the public for tours, we decided we had to check it out.

Safari West is an absolutely amazing place that is the culmination of one couple’s dream. It’s affiliated with the American Zoological Association, so they are very conservation minded and have everything set up for the comfort and welfare of all their animals. They manage to do this while encouraging visitors to support their efforts and recycle materials, yet we never felt preached to or exhorted.

They are also mindful of providing homes to California native animals: bird, bat, and owl houses, and man-made ponds designed to become a self sustaining ecosystem were scattered about. We also saw them running special safaris for school kids and parents as well as adults and families.

Some of the animals are in enclosures you can walk up to even after the safari part is over. Like lemur island. Hello Zoboomafoo! Guinea fowl wander around freely, and there’s even a kookaburra.

We got Tent #19, which was up a short hill, and caddy-corner to a little lake with herons and duck families. You can watch giraffes in their paddock from the front porch! This was not my father’s pup tent. It’s at least 35′ by 16′ with a high ceiling, hardwood floors (and tile in the large bathroom), hot and cold running water, smoke alarm, and a space heater and electric blankets for winter. The tent itself is apparently made of ripstop canvas, and was very heavy duty stuff, made in Botswana.

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The sumptuous breakfast (included in an overnight stay) was a buffet with fresh cooked oatmeal, scrambled eggs, selection of cold cereals, muffins, English muffins, danishes, fruits, coffees, teas, and fresh squeezed orange juice. Fantastic way to start our day!

Susan in Breakfast Heaven

The first part of the safari had us walking around the few paved areas to see the cheetahs, several aviaries, a serval, duiker antelope and others. The gigantic aviary housed flocks of Scarlet and Sacred Ibis (from Egypt), spoon bill storks, ducks, flamingos, African pigeons and others, with lots of nest building going on. One tree had all the ibis nesting while another tree held spoonbills and others with their nests.

After that, we climbed aboard one of the gigantic vehicles that seat 14 (including the driver/guide) and off we went into the gated enclosures. Each section had a gate to be opened and closed by the driver once the vehicle was inside. Our driver was very knowledgeable and both humorous and serious, keeping up a constant commentary as he drove the narrow dirt pathways looking for where the herd animals were relaxing, so we could get a closer look. At each stop, the engine was shut off so we could talk to the guide.

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One of the things we learned was how fast some of these herd animals can maim or kill you. No getting off the truck for anyone other than the driver! An older Cape Buffalo lying down in the shade took exception to our stopping by him for more than 3 minutes, so he got to his hooves and gave us the hairy eyeball. That’s when we left, because Cape Buffalo are the third most deadly mammal in Africa (after hippos and lions) and would probably kill you in California too. An ostrich sitting in the middle of the path necessitated driving around her. Another ostrich who was a bit too close and curious was encouraged to sit down facing away from us by the driver.

Among the animals we saw were several species of antelope, Cape buffalo, wildebeest/gnu, zebras, ostrich (totally unafraid of the vehicle), lots of giraffe (including a 3-day-old newborn), and golden crown cranes. The 5 year old rhino came out to say hello on our way back down the hill. His parents stayed snug in their barn. Yes, they have tight security to protect them from idiot poachers.

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Acknowledgement: This journey was made possible by a grant from
the Barbara Arnstein Foundation.

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